Another No-Name Back Runs Wild: 4 Takeaways from Minnesota Win vs Michigan State
On Saturday afternoon, the Minnesota Gophers hosted the Michigan State Spartans at Huntington Bank Stadium as favorites trying to avoid a letdown, following a program-changing win vs the Iowa Hawkeyes one week ago.
For much of Saturday’s contest, I wasn’t sure this postgame blog would hold a lot of positivity. The Gophers offense made its fair share of mistakes, especially early on, and could have easily been down two touchdowns in the first quarter.
But, that’s not how reality unfolded. Instead, Minnesota recovered from their slow start and managed to beat the Spartans in pretty convincing 27-12 fashion and moved to 5-3 (3-2) on the season.
4 Takeaways from Minnesota win vs Michigan State
Even when put in really difficult spots, the defense held strong and played their most impressive game of the month. Offensively, the shorthanded Gophers found a rhythm in both the run and pass game, that they haven’t displayed in weeks.
Yes, the victory was far from perfect. Hell, they started the game off with two lost fumbles within their own 30-yard line, the first of which happened on the 2nd play of the game. And yes, lost fumbles were only two of three Golden Gopher turnovers on the day.
Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, who was guilty of losing the second fumble in the first quarter, threw an ugly interception in the 3rd quarter that stunted what was an effective drive, to that point.
1. Early turnovers damper otherwise effective Gopher offense
But that was kind of the story much of the game on offense, for PJ Fleck & Co., who continually shot themselves in the foot with untimely mistakes and turnovers, early on. But, as the afternoon went on, Minnesota’s offense seemed to figure something out. Saturday was far from perfect, but the Minnesota offense definitely took a stride forward.
Athan made mistakes but, overall, had one of his more impressive showings of the season, throwing for 200 yards and a touchdown. But really, this game came down to yet another surprise performance from a no-name Minnesota running back (keep reading). In total, the Gophers racked up over 35 minutes with the ball and 400 yards of offense.
2. Another Minnesota Gophers running back, Jordan Nubin, goes off
After senior transfer, Sean Tyler, coughed up that first fumble early in the contest, he was benched, in favor of redshirt freshman, Jordan Nubin (Tyler’s brother), who took the opportunity and (pun intended) ran with it, racking up over 200 yards on 40 carries (yes 40), with two touchdowns to go on top.
At this point, one has to question whether or not the Minnesota coaching staff identifies and develops running backs better than any other staff in the country or, if more credit should fall on the offensive line and its coaches.
Either way (probably some of both), the Gophers have proven they can run the ball all over just about any defense and with just about any running back. As long as they can hold onto the football.
3. Joe Rossi’s Defense is back?
The improvement we’ve seen from the Minnesota Gophers defense over the past few weeks, between today and last Saturday in Kinnick, is night and day vs the three weeks prior. Seven days after holding Iowa to 10 total points, Joe Rossi’s defense surrendered just 12 points to the mess of an offense that is Michigan State.
Still, turning an opponent over 3 times while holding them under two touchdowns is impressive, even if that team’s offense isn’t. I wouldn’t expect those results in a few weeks, when the Gophers travel to the Horseshoe to play Ohio State.
But with that being said, Minnesota has games the next two weeks vs Illinois and Purdue that could continue to build their confidence. Given how they surrendered over 100 points total in their last three matchups vs Michigan, Louisiana and Northwestern to start October.
4. Zebras weren’t friends of Gophers today
After referees made the correct ruling late last week vs Iowa, when they called Cooper DeJean’s invalid fair catch back, they had no interest in making calls that favored Minnesota this weekend.
Whether it was a phony defensive pass interference call, that really should’ve been a penalty against the Michigan State wide receiver, or QB Athan Kaliakmanis getting thrown to the turf long after whistles blew… the zebras at Huntington Banks Stadium on Saturday kept their flags pocketed, when it may have helped the home team.
But, striped discrimination could not stop the Minnesota Gophers from finding a way to victory this weekend, moving them to 5-3 (3-2) on a season that still has hope of a Big Ten West championship.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan